Acne Center

Acne Treatment

Acne treatment
40% or more of all American teens eventually seek treatment through a doctor. Usually, acne can be resolved through non-prescription medication or other forms of treatment.  Thus, treatment for acne or acne-related conditions may involve treatment of the acne itself, and of the scarring that it may produce. Goals of treatment for acne include:

  1. Treating existing acne
  2. Reducing the intensity and frequency of future outbreaks
  3. Treat scarring left by acne (if necessary)

Home remedies
Home remedies typically involve cleaning agents that contain active chemicals to help reduce outbreaks or decrease the severity of acne. These include acetone, alcohol, benzoyl peroxide, resorcinol, salicylic acid, and sulfur. If acne outbreaks are due to stress, relaxing with a cup of chamomile or other herbal tea may be helpful. Other techniques that help treat stress include yoga and breathing techniques.


Cosmetics and hair products -  Avoid greasy, or oily cosmetics, and instead use water-based products. Instead, use cosmetics labeled as 'non-comedogenic' or 'non-acnegenic' as these do not cause whiteheads/blackheads, or other forms of acne. If you notice acne after the use of a specific cosmetic, try to find an alternative.  And, remove any cosmetics before you go to bed.  

Picking the skin - Avoid picking the skin, as this can cause scarring and may leave permanent damage to your face.  Consult with your doctor under what conditions, you should remove pustules or other acne conditions.  And, avoid resting your face on your hands.  

Shaving - If acne is due to irritation of the skin caused by acne, you can take preventative steps by making sure that your razor blade is sharp.  And, soften the skin's hairs with soap and water before shaving cream to reduce irritation of the skin

Tanning - While tanning might cover up some acne, this result is temporary and may even cause aging of the skin and/or skin cancer.  Some types of prescription medication (e.g. isotretinoin) can further increase photosensitivity, making tanning a non-option.  

Washing - Use warm water and a mild cleanser, 1x or 2x per day to remove excessive oil and excessive dead skin cells.  Choose cleansers that contain either benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid.   
However, avoid abrasive cleansers, and washing too frequently, and with too much friction against the skin.  Doing this can actually trigger acne.  After exercise, take a shower to remove excessive oil.  But, again, be gentle in washing acne-prone areas.  


Antibiotics are either topical (directly applied to the skin), or may be taken orally. Typically, mild to moderate acne may be treated with topical antibiotics. Moderate to severe acne is treated with oral antibiotics. Dosages are adjusted from higher doses and then reduced over time. Side effects to oral antibiotics include sensitivity to light and gastrointestinal discomfort. In the case of topical antibiotics, skin dryness and irritation may occur.

Creams and lotions
Creams and lotions may contain benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, anti-biotics, lactic acid, sulphur, resorcinol, etc. These topical medications may be suitable by themselves for mild acne, or may be used in combination with oral antibiotics (which may need to be taken for several months).  For example, Vitamin A derivatives (retinoids) are effective acne medication, which works by either unplugging comeodones or by reducing the likelihood of getting future comeodones.  By first unclogging pores, this medication is often effective when used with other topical, prescription medication to treat acne.   

Hormone therapy
Women with acne may be prescribed prescription birth control medication by their doctor. These have been shown to reduce acne outbreaks, but may carry side effects.  Other female hormone medications may also be prescribed, so that male hormones' (e.g. testosterone) affects are reduced, thus decreasing the likelihood of outbreaks.

More serious acne may require isotretinoin, which is heavily regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, and carries potentially severe side affects. While all pregnant women or potentially pregnant women should talk about their pregnancies and possible drug complications, this is especially important with isotretinoin, as there are is a significantly increased likelihood of birth defects.  

Oral medications
A variety of medications may be taken orally to treat acne. These can include antibiotics, oral contraceptives, and isotretinoin that are prescribed when topical treatments do not work. Oral antibiotics may initially be started at a higher dosage, but then reduced as symptoms subside. Low doses of antibiotics may be prescribed for months at a time. However, oral contraceptives may also be prescribed, to treat symptoms of abnormal hormonal patterns that might be causing acne.

Surgery and other treatments may be used for either controlling acne, or for treating scars.  

Controlling acne - Both chemical peels and microdermabrasion assist with acne itself. Chemical peels loosen blackheads. Microdermabrasion comedo extraction is a surgical procedure that removes blackheads and whiteheads with a sterile device.  And, drainage and surgical extraction of cysts is another acne surgery used to treat cysts in a sterile manner.  

Treating scars - Dermabrasion, fillers, light therapy, and laser resurfacing may also be useful to treat scarring. During dermabrasion, the top layer of the skin is removed with a rapidly moving wire brush.  A filling procedure take place when collagen or fat is injected over time to stretch out scars; however, this treatment needs to be repeated, as it provides only a temporary affect.  Intense light therapy and laser resurfacing work by removing the top layer of the skin, and by heating the underlying layer of the skin.  Intense light therapy is less traumatic for the skin, but requires more frequent treatment. These two treatments are helpful in encouraging new skin formation.

Acne treatment options are many and varied, whether it is simply through preventative techniques, over-the-counter cleansers, prescription medication, or surgical or other techniques. This usually means that most cases of acne can be resolved, although there is no actual cure. By listening to your doctor, and adopting new lifestyle behaviors, you can effectively reduce your outbreaks and the intensity of them.

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